Natural cellulosic fibre.
Cotton is a natural cellulosic fibre that is characterised by the flat ribbon like structure that has a tendency to twist. It is only available as staple fibre. Naturally near white, organic and "green" cotton are also available. The soft handle and moisture regain properties make it an ideal fibre for use in clothing. Cotton requires extensive chemical intervention and high levels of irrigation during cultivation.
Where it grows / Where it is made
Top countries (2018): Brazil - China - Pakistan - India - USA - Burkina Faso - Australia - Ivory Coast - Cameroon - Turkey
Suitable for use in a wide range of garments. Cotton is widely used in homogeneous and blended yarns. Polyester cotton is the most common blend and widely used if easy care fabrics which require a combination of the natural fibre properties associated with cotton and the durability of polyester. Fabrics can be supplied in a wide range of fabric weights encompassing 145 to 300 gsm.
Impact on the environment
Conventional cotton is an extremely thirsty crop and uses 25% of the world’s pesticides. Also, the process of turning cotton balls into soft or shiny coloured cloth uses a vast array of chemical processes for treating, dyeing, printing, and finishing.
More sustainable alternatives
Using a recycled alternative to the virgin fiber is often a good option. So recycled cotton would be a good alternative.
Other good alternatives are organic cotton, linen, hemp.
Cotton vs Organic cotton
1. Growing cotton uses more water than organic cotton.
11x more water is needed to produce a cotton t-shirt compared to an organic cotton. That is because 80% of organic cotton is watered using rainfall.
2. Organic cotton doesn't use pesticides like regular cotton does.
Conventional cotton uses more than 25 percent of the pesticides used in farming around the world.
3. Organic cotton has far lower co2 emissions than conventional cotton.
Growing organic cotton emits about 46 percent less CO2 than conventional cotton.
4. Organic cotton farming provides a safe environment, conventional cotton can kill.
Organic cotton is handpicked, without the use of machinery, chemicals, or defoliants. Handpicking reduces waste in the farming process and is totally safe for workers. As an added bonus, handpicking allows for better protection of the cotton fibers.
5. Cotton is treated with harsh chemicals, organic cotton isn't.
6. Organic cotton produces higher quality and stronger yarn than regular cotton.
Handpicked cotton fibers make for something called “long staple cotton,” fibers that are longer and stronger than those picked with machines. Industrial cotton machinery is pretty rough with the raw fibers, often breaking and weakening them before they’re even processed into clothes.
7. Organic cotton goes hand-in-hand with fair trade standards, regular cotton doesn't.
65% of fair trade cotton farmers are also certified organic, and that number is on the rise. While not all organic cotton is fair trade and vice versa, there’s a strong overlap between the two. Which makes sense, because organic fibers and fair trade practices are all about protecting people and the earth.
End of life possibilities
In fabric form it can be recycled into wipes for use in a variety of industrial sectors and shredded to be used as mattress infill or into insulation for buildings.
Cotton can also be used as a source of raw material for the manufacture of regenerated cellulose fibres either through the viscose or lyocell processes.
Avoid traditionally farmed cotton and opt instead for recycled cotton or organic cotton, specifically with the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. Not only is it organic, but the GOTS system certifies a brand’s entire supply chain, following its practices—including the dyeing stage—and addresses a range of labour rights issues to be sure high standards of ethics are being maintained throughout the production process.